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Policy on water

Pakistan first drafted a national water policy back in 2005 but the document has been languishing in a dusty drawer ever since, as successive governments were unable to make difficult decisions about water pricing, the sharing of water resources between provinces and the effect of climate change on the water supply. Now, finally, there is an agreement between the centre and the provinces and, according to Water and Power Minister Khawaja Asif, will be presented to the Council of Common Interests for formal approval soon. The   proposed policy will need to be released and studied before it can be commented on but there are some key features we need to look out for. Any national water policy worth its name will have to address our looming water scarcity and promote efforts towards water conservation, the building of reservoirs, reducing over-extraction of fresh water. A sustainable pricing system will also need to be introduced to ensure our irrigation system can continue to be properly operated and maintained. In terms of climate change and the melting of glaciers, in recent years there has been near annual flooding and the government has shown that it is so far incapable of dealing with it. Flood and drought management, before, during and after flooding will need to be a priority of a national water policy.

Any national water policy will also have to acknowledge the reality that most of our fresh water comes from India and that the Indus Waters Treaty is now at risk. This is where it is the job of the federal government to explain its strategy not just for dealing with India but also building our own dams on the tributaries of the Indus River, just as India has done. Above all, a national water policy should not be just about our immediate water needs but those of future generations. We need to become environmentally-responsible stewards of the natural resources with which we have been entrusted. The government cannot allow the continued siltation of dams, deforestation, soil degradation and destructive land use. The depletion of fish from our rivers through over-fishing too will have to be addressed. None of this going to be easy and will require all the provinces to buy into a shared vision. Even more, all of us will have to understand that as a water-insecure nation we cannot continue down the path we are on right now.

Editorial. Policy on water. The News, January 16, 2017.

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